WASHINGTON -- Tea party stars Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are approaching the issue of military sexual assault with greater common sense than some Democratic stalwarts, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said.
Gillibrand has been leading an uphill fight she thinks she's about to win to have the investigation of military sex assaults removed from the chain of command. She has predicted the move would help end a scourge that has gone unchecked for decades.
Gillibrand has been blocked been not just by military defenders, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), but also by Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Carl Levin (Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
But Gillibrand has gotten a much-needed boost from Cruz and Paul, whose approval signals to right-leaning senators that the issue is safe for them as well.
Gillibrand, who has become more progressive since becoming a senator in 2009, said it came down to a clear-eyed look at the problem for Paul and Cruz.
"I'm not surprised at all," Gillibrand said. "This is not a political issue. Politics has nothing to do with this issue. In fact, this is about justice, fairness, and making sure victims' voices are heard. These are some of our greatest survivors, men and women who are courageous."
Gillibrand often points to reports that 26,000 members of the military who suffered sexual assaults in 2012, and the vast majority never report it because they don't trust the chain of command.
She said that all it took for Cruz and Paul to see it her way was for them to pay attention.
"When Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz sat down, talked to victims, studied the issue, learned about it, they just applied common sense," Gillibrand said. "And that's what this issue needs."
She said she didn't find it surprising that two of the Senate's most conservative members would wind up to the left of Levin and McCaskill on an issue important to women's advocates.
"I don't think it's a question of being progressive or conservative. I think it's whether you're going to listen to what victims and survivors have told us about what's wrong with the system or not," Gillibrand said. "They say, 'I'm not reporting because I don't trust the chain of command.' If you do not listen to that and you do not believe it, then you will not look for this reform. So it's really just a question of whether you believe what the victims say is true."
Gillibrand also noted that generals and other military brass have admitted that commanders can drop the ball on complaints of sexual abuse. She thinks removal of the commanders from the process will solve that problem because victims will have less to fear by way of retribution, and will be more likely to come forward.
"The big difference between me and Sen. Levin and others is that I want to do something -- something meaningful -- about the lack of reporting," Gillibrand said. "Because I truly believe that if you get the reporting up, and get the number of cases that are investigated up, you will have more convictions. When these predators see you cannot get away with this crime, the crimes committed will go down. That is what I am fighting for."
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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